Monday, April 27, 2015

The Best of What Remains

Nobody wants the broken shells. They're not scooped up, cleaned off, or taken home to be added to collections. Nobody strings them onto necklaces. There's no market to sell them to tourists.

At some point during their rough trip to shore, they've been damaged, and now they're less than beautiful. They can even be dangerous, as anybody who's ever stepped barefoot on a broken shell can attest. 

Perhaps considering themselves fortunate to be out of the waves where they were once so damaged, they'll burrow down in the sand with hopes to remain there forever--sharp and brittle and ready to gouge the tender instep of anyone passing by.

Unfortunately, they've avoided the very process that would have beautified their brokenness.

There are other shells, also broken, who--while longing for the comfort of shore--will instead find themselves forever tumbling in the surf. In a seemingly endless cycle they'll ride the waves toward shore, only to be sucked backward in the cold undertow again and again and again.

This long and dizzying process will nevertheless have one positive effect: it will wear down the broken edges, transforming them into smooth curves with the butter-soft finish of polished marble.

Deliver us not from the tumbling surf. 

Use it instead to beautify the best of what remains, as together we look forward to the day when You will make all things new.

* * * *

Upon the sandy shore an empty shell,
Beyond the shell infinity of sea;
O Saviour, I am like that empty shell;
Thou art the Sea to me.

A sweeping wave rides up the shore, and, lo,
Each dim recess the coiled shell within
Is searched, is filled, is filled to overflow
By water crystalline.

Not to the shell is any glory then:
All glory give we to the glorious sea.
And not to me is any glory when
Thou overflowest me.

Sweep over me, Thy shell, as low I lie,
I yield me to the purposes of Thy will;
Sweep up, O conquering waves, and purify.
And with Thy fullness fill.

Amy Carmichael, "The Shell," Toward Jerusalem.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Toilets of the World, Part 2: Incommodious Commodes

On a recent international trip, while yearning for the comfort and cleanliness of my own home bathroom, it occurred to me that when I wrote my first "Toilets of the World" post a few years ago, I'd concentrated more on public restrooms as a whole rather than on the toilets themselves. 

Something must be done! I thought over the sound of flushing toilets and the wooshing of electric hand dryers.

The world needs this!

Toilets of the World, Part 2: Incommodious Commodes
  1. The Preemptive Flusher. This eager toilet auto-flushes three times while you're still sitting down and then refuses to flush again once you're actually done. You can stand up, wave your hand in front of the sensor, or do jumping jacks, but for all this toilet cares, the show's over. 
  2. The Splash Zone. Like Old Faithful, this geyser can be counted on to shoot jets of water straight into the air with each flush. Unlike real geysers, however, the worst aspect of the toilet-geyser is that even when you know the splash is coming, the confining nature of the standard toilet stall--coupled with the fact that most stall doors tend to swing inward--make a quick escape impossible.
  3. The Loose Seat. This wobbly circle unsettles your balance, nearly spilling you into that damp, scary place between the commode and the wall. Guaranteed to give you an adrenaline spike that will last the rest of the day.
  4. The Paid Loo. The Paid Loo really is a mixed blessing. While it's generally cleaner than standard public toilets, you try digging 50p out of your bag when you really have to go. 
  5. The No-paper Special. Self-explanatory.
  6. The Wading Pool. Whether from a leaky bowl or from the aforementioned geyser effect, this toilet is surrounded by puddles deep enough to require wading boots. May I suggest cuffing your jeans before approaching the stall, just in case?
  7. The Sierra Mist. Not to be crass, but this toilet seat has been dusted by a fine, suspiciously-hued spray prior to your arrival. Best to move along ASAP. 
  8. The Squatty. Dangerous if you have poor balance, but a great way to learn multitasking and keep yourself limber into old age. It's a bathroom break and an isometric workout all rolled into one!
  9. The Backless Wonder. This occurs when the flushing mechanism to the toilet has broken, and management has removed the lid to the toilet tank so that you may more conveniently reach in to flush the toilet yourself. Sticking your hand into a watery toilet tank is gross enough when it's your own toilet at home. But in a gas station bathroom? Your best bet is to carry one of those plastic dinosaur grabbers in your travel bag just in case. 
  10. The Crime Scene: 

The above photo, taken by my friend Alissa while we road tripped together through the American Southwest, demonstrates one of the downsides to travel: you never really know what will await you behind the next stall door.

One upside to traveling, however, is that.... well.... you're traveling

Sure, public toilets can be a nuisance, and you have the right to cringe every time you feel the call of nature while on a trip.

But still! You're out there having a blast and seeing the world! dodgy toilet at a time.